For decades, she’s appeared discreetly at royal events, and now she is chief among those mourning the loss of Prince Philip.
For decades, she’s appeared discreetly at royal events, and now she is chief among those mourning the loss of Prince Philip.

Mystery woman who was in Prince Philip’s royal circle

For decades, she's been appeared discreetly in the background at royal events, and now Penny Brabourne is chief among those mourning the loss of Prince Philip.

Despite a 32-year age gap between the two, the Duke of Edinburgh and Penny - the Countess Mounbatten of Burma - hit off their friendship in the early 1990s and were by one another's sides ever since.

Born to a butcher-turned-businessman, Penny attended school in Switzerland before graduating from the prestigious London School of Economics and marrying Norton Knatchbull, the now 3rd Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Norton is Prince Philip's godson and his grandfather, Louis Mountbatten, was Prince Philip's uncle and mentor.


Norton was classmates with Prince Charles at school, and the Prince of Wales served as best man at his wedding to Penny.

Prince Charles is also the godfather of the couple's only son, Nicholas, who was a close friend of Princes William and Harry growing up. Princess Diana was a godmother to the couple's daughter, Alexandra, who is Nicholas' twin. Tragically, Lord and Lady Mountbatten couple lost their third child, Leonora, to kidney cancer when she was aged just five.

Having spent years moving within the same social circles as the Duke of Cornwall, Penny became closer with the Queen and Prince Philip following her daughter's untimely death in 1991.


In 1994, Prince Philip taught Penny carriage-driving, one of his lifelong passions. She soon became his constant companion in the sport, and many insiders credit her presence for Prince Philip continuing driving well into his 90s.

The Queen and Prince Philip also supported the Countess in 2010 when, after 30 years of marriage, Lord Mountbatten announced he was moving to the Bahamas and leaving her for the fashion designer, Jeannie McWeenie.

Taking the news stoically, Penny remained in the couple's 60-room Hampshire mansion and took over the day-to-day running of the estate. Sources close to the royals say the Queen and Prince Philip were hugely impressed by her 'keep calm and carry on' mentality during this trying time.

When Lord Mountbatten ended his affair and returned in 2014, the Countess initially refused to allow him to enter to the family home, instead relegating him to a converted barn on the grounds. He later returned home, but now struggles with ailing health.

Over the years, Penny has also been active in charity and community work. She currently serves as the High Steward of Romsey, is a patron and president of multiple charities, and founded the Edwina Mountbatten and Leonora Children's Foundation to help families and children with cancer.

In 2016, Prince Charles walked Penny's daughter Alexandra down the aisle, where the Queen and Prince Philip were in attendance. Alexandra now works in finance and has two young sons.


Sadly, the couple's son, Nicholas, has battled a severe drug addiction on and off for years, which has been well documented by the British press. While he once bragged about giving Prince Harry his first joint in high school, his habit quickly turned dangerous, and at the height of a heroin and cocaine addiction he reportedly bragged about secretly smoking crack during a visit with the Queen and Prince Charles. He has attended multiple top-tier rehab facilities around the world and is believed to be clean now. He was last known to be working as a DJ under the moniker Five Dimensional Nick.

While the question of who will inherit the family's titles and successful estate is often raised, Lady Mountbatten have ever commented publicly on which of their twins will take over the reins.

As for the Queen and Prince Philip, though, the royal household had reportedly taken to nicknaming Penny "and also" due to her name always appearing at the top of their guest lists.

She is believed to be among the 30 mourners who will attend Prince Philip's funeral this week, which is limited to size due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions within the UK.

Originally published as Mystery woman who was in Prince Philip's royal circle